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Career clinic

This week Professor John Howson answers questions about a teaching compromise and an aspiration to lead

This week Professor John Howson answers questions about a teaching compromise and an aspiration to lead

Twin-subject dilemma

I have been head of geography for several years, and this year have also been teaching maths up to Year 11. My headteacher has asked me to teach more maths next year. Would this leave me in a tricky situation if I chose to move schools, as I would be a 5050 maths and geography teacher?

The headteacher has the right to determine what you teach, but your contract no doubt says that you are head of geography with the teaching and learning responsibility for that role, and you should try to protect that.

If the number of pupils on roll is shrinking, moving to 5050 teaching might be understandable as a compromise to help out the school in the short term.

However, if the headteacher wants to make someone else head of geography, your position may be compromised and you should consult your professional association.

If the headteacher is forcing you to give up the head of department role, my advice would be to look for another head of geography post or consider whether it is time to aim for some other promotion. You should also explore what hidden motives the headteacher may have for claiming that there is not the need for you to teach the subject full time. For instance, what has happened to the geography results while you have been head of department?

However good you are at maths, I doubt you could become a head of that department without an appropriate degree, unless your headteacher offers it to you at your school. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely if they are trying to water down your current role that they would make you head of a larger department.

So accept a compromise if it is for the short term, but fight to keep your head of department role and do not let yourself be replaced.

Frustrated ambitions

I taught design and technology for 18 years at the same school, including 12 as a year leader and head of resistant materials. But after applying unsuccessfully for an assistant head post several times, I decided it was time to leave and I moved to a different part of England last year. However, I have not been able to find a new role since last July, despite applying for several senior management posts. Unfortunately, I am 49 years old. Do you think I should persevere with this ambition or am I always going to be seen as "over the hill"?

The harsh reality is that, at 49, you are considered by most who shortlist for entry-grade senior leadership posts to be too old. The greater the competition (the number of assistant head posts advertised has fallen significantly over the past two years) the more governing bodies are likely to go for youth over experience.

The best you can hope for at present is probably a head of resistant materials or possibly a head of design and technology post, providing you can show leadership understanding and offer a credible plan for the future of a department.

There are far fewer "no go" schools these days, where teachers do not want to work, so most schools attract more applications than in the past, although DT middle management is probably more of a shortage area than senior leadership posts.

A post with responsibility should be easier to obtain than a basic classroom post, as secondary roles will decline over the next two years and the market has to absorb the current increase in newly trained teachers, plus the influx of "returners".

I know this is gloomy news for you. In a couple of years, the job market may be more favourable for candidates, but it will be hard until then for you and many other secondary-trained teachers. If you find employment outside teaching that may be better, but often it does not pay as well. I do not think that investing in further qualifications will bring a return on the cash expended at your career stage.

Professor John Howson is our resident career expert, with 40 years in education, including spells as a teacher, academic, school recruitment researcher and government adviser.

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